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28 minutes ago


Life & Culture
Election 2016


News Brief
UNESCO recognizes Israel’s Aleppo Codex in registry of world treasures
February 9, 2016 4:14pm
Renewed galleries in the Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Wing for Jewish Art and Life at The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. (Tim Hursley, courtesy of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem)

The Aleppo Codex, not pictured, is on permanent exhibition at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, above. (Tim Hursley/Courtesy of the Israel Museum)

(JTA) — The Aleppo Codex — believed to be the world’s oldest surviving copy of the Hebrew Bible — has been officially recognized as a treasured item by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The codex, which is on permanent display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, will be listed in UNESCO’s International Memory of the World Register, Haaretz reported Tuesday.

READ: UNESCO to vote on proposal declaring Western Wall a Muslim site
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UNESCO officially recognized the codex on Monday, according to Haaretz, deciding it belongs in its registry of 300 items and collections from all over the world. The registry already includes two other items from Israel: the Israel Museum’s Rothschild Miscellany, a collection of illustrated 15th-century manuscripts, and the Pages of Testimony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, which documents the names and stories of Holocaust victims.

READ: Facsimile edition of Aleppo Codex published by Hebrew U

Written in northern Israel around 930 CE, the codex has a storied and transient history. It was smuggled into Israel from Syria 60 years ago, and since then 200 of the original 500 pages have mysteriously disappeared.

An award-winning 2013 book — “The Aleppo Codex: In Pursuit of One of the World’s Most Coveted, Sacred and Mysterious Books” — chronicles its history.

According to Haaretz, 7,200 pages of Isaac Newton’s papers, which are stored in Israel’s National Library in Jerusalem, was also added to the UNESCO registry this week."

33 minutes ago




The Aleppo Codex

Winner of the 2014 Sami Rohr Prize

Winner of the American Library Association’s 2013 Sophie Brody Medal

Winner of the 2013 Canadian Jewish Book Award for history

One of Booklist’s top ten religion books of the year, 2013

Finalist, Religion Newswriters Association award for best religion book of 2013
A thousand years ago, the most perfect copy of the Hebrew Bible was written. It was kept safe through one upheaval after another in the Middle East, and by the 1940s it was housed in a dark grotto in Aleppo Syria, and had become known around the world as the Aleppo Codex.

Matti Friedman’s true-life detective story traces how this precious manuscript was smuggled from its hiding place in Syria into the newly founded state of Israel—and how and why many of its most sacred and valuable pages went missing. It’s a tale that involves secret agents, pious clergymen, obsessive antiquities collectors, and highly placed national figures who, as it turns out, would do anything to get their hands on an ancient book. What it reveals are uncomfortable truths about greed, state cover-ups, and the fascinating role of historical treasures in creating a national identity.

Friedman has unearthed documents kept secret for fifty years, interviewed key players from around the world, and followed the trail of the missing pages up to the present, including the charged four-year court battle to determine the codex’s rightful owners. Friedman also takes us back in time, revealing the once vibrant Jewish communities in Islamic lands. Epic in its sweep, The Aleppo Codex features a fascinating cast of characters—all of whom claim the codex as their own."

about 7 hours ago

Reframing the Problem: Caring for Framed Objects in Small Institutions (aka: On a Budget)


Do you have a stash of framed objects and old frames and don’t know what to do with them? This webinar will focus on the ways that smaller institutions can care for those frames and their contents safely and economically. Topics will include storage tips on a budget; whether to use glass or Plexiglas®; the nuts and bolts of framing hardware; caring for period frames; and the advantages of using standard frame sizes. There will be plenty of time for questions and discussion at the end.


Wendy Partridge is a Paintings Conservator at ICA Art Conservation in Cleveland, OH. She has a graduate degree in Paintings Conservation with an M.A. in art history from the Conservation Center, Institute of Fine Arts, NYU. Prior to working for the ICA, she had internships and fellowships at the National Gallery, Washington, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She is a professional associate of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) and served for two years as chair of the AIC Paintings Specialty Group.

Jamye working on MarleneJamye Jamison is the Paper Conservator at ICA Art Conservation in Cleveland, OH. In 2003, after completing her graduate internship at the Newberry Library in Chicago, she received an MLIS with a concentration in book and paper conservation from the University of Texas at Austin. Prior to joining the staff at the ICA in 2008, she was a paper conservator at Zukor Art Conservation, in Oakland, CA. Jamye is a professional associate and was the Book and Paper Group Program Chair for the 2012 American Institute for Conservation’s (AIC) Annual Meeting after filling the role of Assistant Program Chair in 2011.

Recorded: Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Duration: 1 Hour 25 minutes"

about 7 hours ago

"Black History Month 5776 continues with mini-profiles of seven inspiring Jews, from actress Sophie Okonedo to author James McBride

By MaNishtana"

about 18 hours ago

Edison vs. Westinghouse: A Shocking Rivalry
The inventors' battle over the delivery of electricity was an epic power play
By Gilbert King
October 11, 2011

George Westinghouse. Photo: Library of Congress

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. They were genius rivals: two American titans who transformed the technology industry and lived to see their visions of computers and electronic devices in billions of homes and offices around the world. Still, their philosophies and personalities were as different as night and day, or Macs and PCs, and over the years, they could not resist needling and antagonizing each other as they staked their claims in the global technology marketplace.

“The only problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste,” Jobs famously said in 1996. “They have absolutely no taste. And I don’t mean that in a small way, I mean that in a big way, in the sense that they don’t think of original ideas, and they don’t bring much culture to their products.”

In 2006, when Apple released its popular Mac vs. PC ads, wherein a hip young Jobs-like character interacts with a bumbling, back-office, brown-suited Gates type, Gates was clearly irritated. “I don’t know why acting like it’s superior. I don’t even get it,” Gates said. “If you just want to say, ‘Steve Jobs invented the world, and then the rest of us came along,’ that’s fine.”

Thomas Edison. Photo by Victor Daireaux

Yet despite the barbs, (and occasional lawsuits) and despite the obvious competition, both Jobs and Gates were smart enough to know that there was room in the consumer market for Apple and Microsoft to coexist, and over the years, neither was too proud or too stung by the other’s words to stop them from entering into various partnerships along the way. (In fact, in 1997 Microsoft infused Apple with $150 million in cash at a time when Jobs was brought back by the board of directors to serve as interim CEO, as Apple was suffering crippling financial losses.) The same, however, cannot be said for Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, who, more than a century ago, engaged in a nasty battle over alternating and direct current, known as the “War of Currents.” Both men knew there was room for but one American electricity system, and Edison set out to ruin Westinghouse in “a great political, legal and marketing game” that saw the famous inventor stage publicity events where dogs, horses and even an elephant were killed using Westinghouse’s alternating current. The two men would play out their battle on the front pages of newspapers and in the Supreme Court, in the country’s first attempt to execute a human being with electricity.

After Edison developed the first practical incandescent light bulb in 1879, supported by his own direct current electrical system, the rush to build hydroelectric plants to generate DC power in cities across the United States practically guaranteed Edison a fortune in patent royalties. But early on, Edison recognized the limitations of DC power. It was very difficult to transmit over distances without a significant loss of energy, and the inventor turned to a 28-year-old Serbian mathematician and engineer whom he’d recently hired at Edison Machine Works to help solve the problem. Nikola Tesla claimed that Edison even offered him significant compensation if he could design a more practical form of power transmission. Tesla accepted the challenge. With a background in mathematics that his inventor boss did not have, he set out to redesign Edison’s DC generators. The future of electric distribution, Tesla told Edison, was in alternating current—where high-voltage energy could be transmitted over long distances using lower current—miles beyond generating plants, allowing a much more efficient delivery system. Edison dismissed Tesla’s ideas as “splendid” but “utterly impractical.” Tesla was crushed and claimed that Edison not only refused to consider AC power, but also declined to compensate him properly for his work. Tesla left Edison in 1885 and set out to raise capital on his own for Tesla Electric Light & Manufacturing, even digging ditches for the Edison Company to pay his bills in the interim, until the industrialist George Westinghouse at Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company, a believer in AC power, bought some of Tesla’s patents and set about commercializing the system so as to take electric light to something more than an urban luxury service. While Tesla’s ideas and ambitions might be brushed aside, Westinghouse had both ambition and capital, and Edison immediately recognized the threat to his business.

Within a year, Westinghouse Electric began installing its own AC generators around the country, focusing mostly on the less populated areas that Edison’s system could not reach. But Westinghouse was also making headway in cities like New Orleans, selling electricity at a loss in order to cut into Edison’s business. By 1887, after only a year in the business, Westinghouse had already more than half as many generating stations as Edison. The concern at Edison was palpable, as sales agents around the country were demoralized by Westinghouse’s reach into rural and suburban areas. But Thomas Edison had an idea. Surely Westinghouse’s system must be more dangerous, what with all that voltage passing through the wires. “Just as certain as death,” Edison predicted, “Westinghouse will kill a customer within 6 months after he puts in a system of any size.”

In November 1887, Edison received a letter from a dentist in Buffalo, New York, who was trying to develop a more humane method of execution than hanging. Having witnessed a drunk man accidentally kill himself by touching a live electric generator, Alfred P. Southwick became convinced that electricity could provide a quicker, less painful alternative for criminals condemned to death. Perhaps the Wizard of Menlo Park might have some thoughts about the best electric current “to produce death with certainty in all cases.” Edison, who opposed capital punishment, at first declined to get involved with Southwick’s project. But when the dentist persisted, Edison, recognizing the opportunity that had landed in his lap, wrote back to say that although he would “join heartily in an effort to totally abolish capital punishment,” he did have some thoughts about electric currents in which to dispose of “criminals under sentence of death.”

“The most effective of these,” he wrote, “are known as ‘alternating machines,’ manufactured principally in this country by Mr. Geo. Westinghouse, Pittsburgh.”

In June 1888, Edison began to demonstrate the lethal power of alternating current for reporters. He rigged a sheet of tin to an AC dynamo and led a dog onto the tin to drink from a metal pan. Once the dog touched the metal surface, it yelped and“the little cur dog fell dead.”

Sketch of the execution of William Kemmler on August 6, 1890, using alternating current. Image: Wikipedia

Electricity will kill a man “in the ten-thousandth part of a second,” Edison told one reporter shortly after the demonstration, and he was quick to remind him that “the current should come from an alternating machine.”

The battle of the currents had begun. Westinghouse recognized what Edison was up to and wrote the inventor a letter, stating, “I believe there has been a systemic attempt on the part of some people to do a great deal of mischeaf and creat as great a difference as possible between the Edison Company and The Westinghouse Electric Co., when there ought to be an entirely different condition of affairs.” Edison saw no reason to cooperate, and he continued his experiments at varying levels of voltage with dozens of stray dogs purchased from neighborhood boys in Orange, New Jersey at 25 cents each. Edison’s research was soon proving that alternating current was, as he said, “beyond all doubt more fatal than the continuous current.” By the end of the year, Edison arranged a demonstration before a New York State committee impaneled to investigate the use of electricity in executions. At his West Orange laboratory, the inventor wired electrodes to several calves and a horse; even though the animals’ deaths were not quick, the committee was impressed. New York State expressed a desire to purchase “three Westinghouse alternating-current dynamos,” but Westinghouse refused to sell them for the purpose of what was now being described as “electrocution.” It did not matter. An electricity salesman named Harold Brown was commissioned by the state to build an electric chair, and Edison was paying him behind the scenes to use alternating current in his design. Somehow, Brown got his hands on some AC dynamos.

When New York State sentenced convicted murderer William Kemmler to death, he was slated to become the first man to be executed in an electric chair. Killing criminals with electricity “is a good idea,” Edison said at the time. “It will be so quick that the criminal can’t suffer much.” He even introduced a new word to the American public, which was becoming more and more concerned by the dangers of electricity. The convicted criminals would be “Westinghoused.”

Westinghouse was livid. He faced millions of dollars in losses if Edison’s propaganda campaign convinced the public that his AC current would be lethal to homeowners. Westinghouse contributed $100,000 toward legal fees for Kemmler’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was argued that death in the electric chair amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. Both Kemmler and Westinghouse were unsuccessful, and on August 6, 1890, Kemmler was strapped into Harold Brown’s chair at Auburn prison and wired to an AC dynamo. When the current hit him, Kemmler’s fist clenched so tight that blood began to trickle from his palm down the arm of the chair. His face contorted, and after 17 seconds, the power was shut down. Arthur Southwick, “the father of the electric chair,” was in attendance and proclaimed to the witnesses, “This is the culmination of ten years work and study. We live in a higher civilization today.”

Yet behind the dentist, Kemmler began to shriek for air.

“Great God! He’s alive!” someone shouted.

“Turn on the current! Turn on the current instantly!” another screamed. “This man is not dead!”

But the dynamo needed time to build its current, and Kemmler wheezed and gasped before the horrified witnesses as the electricity began to course through his body. Some witnesses fainted while others vomited, as it appeared that Kemmler was on the verge of regaining consciousness. The back of his coat briefly caught fire. Minutes passed until Kemmler finally went rigid. The current stopped and he was pronounced dead by Dr. Edward Spitzka, who predicted, “there will never be another electrocution.”

Westinghouse was horrified by the reports of Kemmler’s execution. “It has been a brutal affair,” he said. “They could have done better with an ax.”

Topsy the Elephant was electrocuted by Thomas Edison's technicians at Coney Island before a crowd of thousands. Photo: Chicago Tribune

Thomas Edison believed that future executions by AC current would go more smoothly, “without the scene at Auburn today.” To further demonstrate the lethal nature of alternating current, he held a widely attended spectacle in Coney Island, New York, where a circus elephant named Topsy was to be executed after she was deemed to be too dangerous to be around people. The elephant had killed three men in recent years—one a trainer who had tried to feed Topsy a lit cigarette. Edison had Topsy fitted with copper-wire sandals, and before a crowd of thousands, an AC current of 6,000 volts was sent coursing through the elephant until she toppled to her side, dead.

Despite all of Edison’s efforts, and despite his attempts to persuade General Electric otherwise, the superiority of the AC current was too much for Edison and his DC system to overcome. In 1893, Westinghouse was awarded the contract to light the Chicago World’s Fair, bringing all the positive publicity he would need to make alternating current the industry standard. For his part, Edison later admitted that he regretted not taking Tesla’s advice.


Books: Mark Essig, Edison & The Electric Chair, Walker and Company, 2003. Craig Brandon, The Electric Chair: An Unnatural American History, McFarland & Company, Inc., 1999. Gilbert King, The Execution of Willie Francis: Race, Murder, and the Search for Justice in the American South, Basic Civitas Books, 2008.

Articles: “”Wait Till the NEXT One!” Newsweek, February 11, 2007. Creating Jobs” by Steve Lohr, New York Times, January 12, 1997. “Steve Jobs and Bill Gates: It’s Complicated” by Jay Greene, CNET News, Microsoft, August 24, 2011. “Coney Elephant Killed” New York Times, January 6, 1903."

about 19 hours ago

"Paul Goldberger’s Great Side Job: Consultant to the Obama Foundation


By Martin C. Pedersen

Paul Goldberger is a busy man. In addition to writing a recently released critically acclaimed biography of Frank Gehry, the critic is also involved in another high-profile endeavor: advising the Obama Foundation on the selection of an architect for the presidential library, which will be located on Chicago’s south side. In December the foundation announced the seven finalists for the commission: Adjaye Associates, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, The Renzo Piano Buildings Workshop, John Ronan Architects, SHoP Architects, Snøhetta, and Todd Williams Billie Tsien Architects.

Although it’s early in the process, the project has already raised some tough questions that the foundation will have to answer as the building moves forward: Should the library usurp precious public land in a neighborhood woefully short on parks? Where is the community’s voice in the process? Last week I had an intriguing conversation with Goldberger about the more prosaic aspects of the architect selection process. This is a slightly edited version of our talk.

MCP: Martin C. Pedersen
PG: Paul Goldberger


When I first read the news about your involvement, my first thought was: what a great gig! Because regardless of what you think of Obama, whether you’re a supporter like I am, or think he was born in Kenya, he’s arguably the most compelling political figure in generations. And the building that will come out of his presidency, is likely to be one of the most interesting commissions in a while. How did you get involved?

I got a call from Penny Pritzker, who I’ve known for years and is now the Secretary of Commerce. She was his first financial chairman and has been close to him for a long time. She asked me, “Do you think you might be able to give them a little bit of advice? Because the people from the foundation don’t know that much about the way things work in the architecture world.” The President is more sophisticated than the average layperson, but nevertheless is also not that connected in our world. They want to do a serious and ambitious search. I said, I’d be happy to talk to them.

Was the preliminary meeting with the President and First Lady?

No. It was with staff people. We got along well, and one conversation led to another, and they said, “Maybe you can stay with us for the whole process and advise us all the way through.” It became much more complex as it went on, which is why they began to think that they needed an advisor. There was a large RFQ, which now goes back to last summer.

Does that pre-date your involvement?

The beginning of it does, and it was their uncertainty about it, about where to turn at key moments, and exactly what they should be doing that led to questions. Those questions, I think, reached Penny, who is close to all of these people. But because of her position as Secretary of Commerce is not officially part of anything. She suggested they talk with me.

And this is something you’ve done before.

I have. But every situation is different. This is not only the most visible but also the most complex. Presidential libraries are inordinately complex.

According to news reports, the foundation hasn’t settled on a site.

There are two possibilities, both in Chicago, both on the South Side. Just about everybody close to the project is more interested in the Washington Park site than the Jackson Park site. Jackson Park is east of the University of Chicago. It’s on the lake. It’s near the Museum of Science and Industry, and it’s a traditional, formal, civic waterfront site. Washington Park is much more in the nitty-gritty of the city. There’s an elevated transit station, adjacent to it. It’s got all kinds of interesting stuff going on, all kinds of urban potential. There’s no question that all the things that you said about Obama being the most compelling political figure in generations, well, the Washington Park site embodies that view. But ultimately there will be a lot of factors that will go into the decision and at the end of the day, it will be up to the president. The process of site selection was moving forward on a parallel track, very slowly, and a decision was made recently—something I was part of and very much supported—to slow that whole process down, let the architect selection process get completed, and let whichever architect is chosen be part of the process of finalizing the site choice. So the whole site issue, for now, is kind of on the back burner. They’re also conducting studies concerning environmental conditions and other factors that could contribute in some way to the final decision. The Washington Park site is the more exciting possibility, because it is the less conventionally “presidential” site. Most of the people close to him feel the same way. But not all, so we’ll see.

obama library sites

The proposed sites for the Obama library, located on Chicago's south side, would both would carve out land from existing parks.

I’m curious about the nuts and bolts of the process. Unpack it for us. How many RFQ responses did you receive, and how did you narrow it down to the final seven?

We received 144 responses. Some of them were from architects who were on a preliminary list, which I helped put together. They were invited. But the RFQ was open to anyone. The invitees were to prime the pump, to assure that firms who the president might be seriously interested in did not fail to respond. There were several phases. Every RFQ was read carefully, without prejudice as to whether they were invited or not.

Then you cut the 144 down to a shorter list of 20 or 30, before narrowing it down to the 7?

Yes, but I can’t remember the exact number. It was around 30. We reviewed that list and talked it through, and then began to pull it back further.

Did the President and First Lady look at that first 30, or were you responsible for paring down the list?

We did that while in communication with them. They were sent a list of around 25 or 30, as a kind of progress report. They responded with some notes and thoughts about the ones that they were particularly interested in.

Did you prepare a pdf for each firm, so they could scroll through the work?

Yes, we did, exactly. There was a really wonderful file prepared for the president that introduced them to all of the firms on the medium length list, which may have been as many as thirty, but it was far more than anyone would want to interview.

goldberger portrait

Paul Goldberger, photo by Michael Lionstar

Did you include your own comments on each firm on the list?


And how did that list get pared down to the final seven?

Further talking. Interviews and studio visits, not involving the president. Still further meetings and discussions.

Who’s the lead person? Is it their close friend, Valerie Jarrett?

No, she has not been involved at all. Marty Nesbitt is the chairperson of the foundation and a close friend from Chicago. A woman named Robbin Cohen is the executive director of the foundation. She’s responsible for running the operation day to day.

How would you characterize the President and First Lady’s architectural taste, as best as you can tell up to this point?

Modern and refined. They like modern things quite genuinely. They do not want a traditional building. I don’t want to cite any particular architect, for obvious reasons, but there’s a certain kind of, let’s say tailored modernism, that they respond best to. But they’re interested in a range of things, and they’re also very interested, as they should be, in somebody who they will feel comfortable talking to.

As should always be the case.

Of course. This business is as much about matching making as it is about architectural knowledge. They very wisely have wanted to meet with everybody on the shortlist, twice. Once at the beginning of the process, and then when they come back with the RFP.

Apparently, the president looked at the list and said, “This seems great; I’m very excited about all these people, but let’s add this and this back in.”


So they’re going to have preliminary meetings with each of the final seven, but the architects won’t show schemes at that point?

Yes. They have already met with some of them. At some point soon they will have met with all seven. Early on there was a lot of anxiety about the President’s schedule. So we were pretty certain that we were bringing the list down to five. We had narrowed the list to twelve firms. We’d done a number of office visits, more intense discussions, investigations, and study, and we were going to recommend to the president that we move forward with five. We were concerned about whether he would even want to meet with more than five firms. There are a couple of people close to him who told us, “It’s inconceivable that he could have time and want to sit through meetings with more than five firms. You must get this down to five.” So, we did. This is around mid December. Robbin sent him the list of twelve, and said, “Here at the top, in the separate group, are the five that we’re recommending.” Apparently, the president looked at it and said, “This seems great; I’m very excited about all these people, but let’s add this and this back in.” So he took two from the other list and made it seven. It was fine with him; he was happy to have seven meetings.

These meetings are probably fun for him.

Yes, considering the kinds of things he usually has to spend his time with. He finds it recreational conversation. That’s how the list became seven. And, no, I will not tell you who the two are that the president added to the list.

When will the architects present schemes to the President and First Lady?

This, too, like many aspects of this process, is fluid. The search has evolved into a little bit more of a design competition than it was originally intended to be. And, frankly, more than I recommended it be.

But it was inevitable that it would be that, because it’s such high profile commission.

Yes, but there’s always the risk that it becomes a beauty contest in situations like that, particularly because the client is not going to be available for give and take during the design process. We’ve tried to be very clear about saying, “This is about conceptual ideas. You’re not designing a finished building.” The program is not even complete, anyway, and you can’t design a building without a complete program.

So, they’re selecting an architect more than a scheme?

They are picking an architect over a scheme, but they nevertheless have asked to see some conceptual ideas for schemes. We’re trying to navigate between those two things. The architects are presenting in mid-March, to us. Separate meetings with the president and first lady, when they will also present, are not yet scheduled. Those will happen, presumably, shortly thereafter, but I don’t know for sure.

Blair Kamin reported the involvement of Ed Schlossberg and Don Gummer [artist and husband of Meryl Streep]. What is happening there?

There is an informal committee that was put together with the president’s suggestion, early on, with a number of people who are interested in and sophisticated about matters of design. He wanted their input. And they were invited to talk about the project.

That’s a very community organizer move by a former community organizer.

Exactly. They were invited to join the office interviews and visits that happened between Thanksgiving and Christmas, before the list was cut back. Some people went to some visits, some went to none, some went to all. And I think that the main reason that I am involved is because, when the whole process began way back in late spring, they thought that this committee could serve as a professional advisor to both to the president and first lady, and to the foundation. Then they realized that approach was not focussed enough. It’s difficult for committees to operate like that. They were all people who the president respects and wanted to hear from. But it was far better to have them be observers, who were welcome, like a Greek chorus, to speak up whenever they wished. But not people who were charged with working on it day to day, or thinking about how the RFQ should be phrased.

How knowledgeable is the president about architects? Does he know their work, or is he familiar to the extent that he’s being exposed by your process?

He started out being somewhat familiar, already. He’s as knowledgeable as you would expect or hope a sophisticated layperson would be. Once it began to get down to the nitty gritty, there were some firms he had never heard of before.

But he knows a fair bit about architecture?

He does. Is he conversant the way you’re conversant? Of course not. He met a couple of them over the years, but didn’t know most of them. Yes, he was engaged and remains a very seriously interested layperson.

The perfect client, in other words.

Theoretically, yes.

Will you stay involved once they select an architect?

I’d be delighted to. Over the years I’ve occasionally helped people find architects and stayed involved. It’s fun to, especially if I like the people in the project. But they’ll have to see if I can add any value to it. I’m the matchmaker, and when the match is made, if they feel I can help as a go-between, I’d be happy to. That will be for them to decide.


about 21 hours ago

Wesley Didn’t Say It: Do all the good you can, by all the means you can…

Apr 2013

Posted by Kevin Watson in Methodist History, Wesley



John Wesley, quotes

“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

Wesley did not say this.

You may have seen this quote in a nice frame on the wall of a Methodist Church, or even published in a book, citing John Wesley as its author. (For example, it was cited in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.) Despite the persistence of the quote being attributed to John Wesley, you will not find in anywhere in his writing.

You can add this quote to other quotes that are stubbornly connected to John Wesley despite the fact that there is no source that connects them to Wesley’s pen. Two I have previously written about here are:

“I set myself on fire and people come to watch me burn.” [Original post here.]

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and, in all things, charity.” [Original post here.]

There are many things I have come to appreciate about twitter, but one of the things that I find the most frustrating is the persistence of misquotes of historical figures. And due to my own area of specialization, misquoting John Wesley gets to me the most. Wesley and others were frequently misquoted before social media, but with the advent of twitter misquoting Wesley seems to be more regular. Wesley said enough interesting, surprising, and even controversial things that we should not need to attribute things to him that he did not actually say. Historical accuracy matters.

Richard P. Heitzenrater discussed these quotes and some other ways Wesley is misquoted or misunderstood in a piece published in Circuit Rider in 2003. You can view a PDF of that article here.

The United Methodist Reporter also wrote a similar piece titled “Wesley, misquoted” in 2011.

In any event, regarding this particular quote, there is no evidence that Wesley said this. We should stop saying that he did. "

about 22 hours ago

"Yes, Many Journalists Choose Sides in a Conflict—and Often for the Worst Reasons
Zenobia Ravji
Zenobia Ravji

Journalist based in Israel
click for full bio >>
~ Also in this issue ~

In the Safe Spaces on Campus, No Jews Allowed by Anthony Berteaux
How Non-Governmental Organizations Became a Weapon in the War on Israel by Gerald Steinberg
This Is Not What a “Moderating” Iran Looks Like in the Wake of the Nuclear Deal by David Patrikarakos
Yes, Many Journalists Choose Sides in a Conflict—and Often for the Worst Reasons by Zenobia Ravji
How Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Legacy Was Hijacked by Academic Radicals by A. Jay Adler

~ Also by Zenobia Ravji ~

Yes, Many Journalists Choose Sides in a Conflict—and Often for the Worst Reasons by Zenobia Ravji

From the Blog

- 02.09.16 -
Another Hamas Militant Reportedly Killed in Tunnel Collapse
- 02.09.16 -
Israel’s Labor Party Adopts Plan to Disengage from West Bank
- 02.09.16 -
New York Times Columnist: Syrian War “Debacle” Has Become “Obama Administration’s Shame”
- 02.09.16 -
UN Accuses Iran-Backed Assad Regime of Carrying Out “Extermination” of Prisoners
- 02.09.16 -
Israeli Man Stabbed in West Bank, Manhunt Underway

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It’s important to remember that journalists are human beings, too—and just like everyone else at work, they can often be overwhelmed, underprepared, bought with kindness, and subject to unconscious bias.
People always ask me if I’m pro-Israel. No one has ever asked me if I am pro-America or pro-Canada or pro-Kenya, where I was born. What does it mean to be pro-Israel? The question even seems vaguely offensive, as if it questions the legitimacy of Israel itself.

I am sure that the concept of a Jewish state has always made sense to me. Perhaps because I myself come from an ancient ethnic and religious minority, the Zoroastrians, who continue to live in a diaspora outside of what was once our homeland, Iran.

So I came to Israel with a predisposed understanding of the need for a state, a safe haven for a people that has been a global minority for millennia and continuously persecuted. But as for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I had no clue what was going on, who was right and who was wrong.

What I came to realize was that you simply cannot understand this highly complex, multidimensional situation unless you come see it for yourself and experience it for yourself, without preconceived notions. This is hard to do. So whom do we rely on to do it? For most people, it’s the Western media, and we presume they know what they’re doing. For the most part, they don’t.
I first came to Israel in January 2014 for a short trip. This two-week holiday turned into two years. At the time, I was a graduate student in journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While traveling, I stumbled on a really eye-opening story—“everyday life” in the West Bank. In the U.S., I was exposed to images of violence and chaos any time the West Bank was mentioned in the news. So when I accidentally ventured into the West Bank during my travels, I had no idea I was even there. I was surrounded by tranquil scenes, modern infrastructure, and economic cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis. I guess this was too boring to make any headlines.

I thought it would be interesting to show people the uneventful side of the story. This wasn’t to negate any social and political injustices of the situation. I just thought people should see the entire truth—not just soldiers, bombs, and riots, but also what’s happening when none of the drama is taking place.

And it wasn’t just the normalcy of life in the West Bank that went unreported. Many of the human rights violations by the Palestinian Authority were never mentioned, such as the lack of freedom of speech and the press, and a complete neglect of the Palestinian people by their own politicians, who continue to exploit the peace process while pocketing European and American funding for a “free Palestine.” My work, however, didn’t consist of criticizing the PA. I thought I should leave that to the “real” journalists. It was their job, after all, to report such things.

I decided to stay in Israel to complete my last semester of journalism school, which consisted of one last major project. Mine was a feature story on economic cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians. It was a documentary that takes place on Sdeh Bar farm in the Israeli settlement of Nokdim. It followed the lives of an Israeli farmer and a Palestinian man who works with him. The two have a unique working relationship, which is more of a friendship. The story also touched on the deep-rooted mistrust both communities have for each other—one that is compartmentalized when cooperating in social and economic settings, while always keeping a suspicious eye open.
Foreign journalists report next to the Iron Dome system near the city of Ashdod, November 15, 2012. Photo: Yonatan Sindel / Flash90

Foreign journalists report next to the Iron Dome system near the city of Ashdod, November 15, 2012. Photo: Yonatan Sindel / Flash90

In my reports, I tried to learn about the region by just observing and interacting with local people. I immersed myself in the culture. I started to develop friendships with Israelis, Palestinians, and Israeli-Arabs. The more I spoke with people, the more I understood where they were coming from. The more information I received on the historical context of the whole situation (which was different depending on who I was speaking to) the more confused I became. And it didn’t take very long for me to realize that the situation was not black and white.
During my time in Israel, I landed an internship with an Israeli non-profit that provided support services for foreign reporters based in Israel. For the most part, my job was to accompany members of the press on field tours, getting perspectives on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. I found to my surprise that much of the foreign press was ignorant and quite lazy in their reporting. They often had a less than limited understanding of the region, its history, and its politics. They tended to write stories that fit the preconceptions of their editors and producers. For the most part, this narrative consisted of the idea that Israelis are bad and Palestinians are good.

On several occasions journalists asked me the most basic questions about the region, such as “What is the difference between a Palestinian and an Israeli-Arab?” Once, a reporter asked me “where is the West Bank?” even though we had been on a tour of the West Bank for the past two hours. I was shocked. I had learned in journalism school that foreign correspondents were meant to be talented professionals. How did these well-educated, ostensibly top-notch journalists be so ignorant, even after spending months and sometimes years in the region?

After working closely with the foreign press, I realized that you can tell a lot about a journalist’s abilities when they are under stress. I would say some of the most memorable performances I witnessed took place during the 2014 Gaza war. One Brazilian journalist comes to mind. He had been flown into Tel Aviv on a day’s notice. He knew nothing about the region. He didn’t even want to be there. When he arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport, he had no idea where he was. In fact, his colleague had to show him where Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank were on a map. The only reason he was even sent to cover the war was because his colleague was Jewish. His paper didn’t want a Jewish name attached to any articles, lest readers think his reports were biased.

In other words, a major international newspaper sent a journalist who didn’t even know where Israel was to cover a war born out of one of the most complicated international situations in modern history. It was incomprehensible to me.
Photographers capture Israeli soldiers clashing with young stone-throwing Palestinians at the Qalandiya checkpoint near the West Bank city of Ramallah, October 9, 2009. Photo: Nati Shohat / Flash90

Photographers capture Israeli soldiers clashing with young stone-throwing Palestinians at the Qalandiya checkpoint near the West Bank city of Ramallah, October 9, 2009. Photo: Nati Shohat / Flash90

During the war, the Western media often accused the IDF of war crimes. But only a few talked about Hamas’ human rights violations, like the use of children as human shields. Israelis were criticized for having bomb shelters and the Iron Dome system to prevent casualties, but the media never mentioned that Hamas also had bomb shelters, as well as an entire underground city connected through a series of tunnels. Both could easily have been used to protect civilian lives. Indeed, members of Hamas were protected by these shelters and tunnels. But their people were forced to fend for themselves in order to serve Hamas’ victim doctrine, the terrorist group’s tactic of engineering massive civilian casualties in order to win the media war against Israel. Nor was there much attention paid to the Hamas charter and its call to destroy Israel and ethnically cleanse the Jewish people.

The Western media also flooded its coverage of the war with personal stories of Palestinians. There were significantly fewer personal stories on the Israeli side. There was a Pavlovian reaction to focus one’s reporting on the supposed “underdog,” which left Israelis voiceless. I wanted to know what Israelis were thinking. How did they feel about the war? The Western media refused to tell us.

So after the war, I took it upon myself to get the detailed stories of Israelis and their experiences during the war. I started collecting stories with the goal of compiling them into a book. I covered the entire mosaic of Israeli society: Bedouins, Israeli-Arabs, Druze, IDF soldiers, politicians, activists, and more. I wanted to know how they felt and what they went through. I found anger and resentment toward their own government and deep sadness for the suffering of innocent Palestinians and their children. It was a very different picture than what the Western media painted. Perhaps they had not bothered to dig deep enough into the story. Perhaps they didn’t want to.
So, why does the Western media get away with such unprofessional and sometimes outright biased conduct? There are two main reasons: First, Israel is a democracy. Second, Israel fails to stand up for itself.

The best part of being a journalist in Israel is freedom of speech. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and the only country in the region that respects freedom of the press. And as with all democracies around the world, it is a privilege for journalists, civilians, foreigners, and the like to criticize it. Members of the foreign press are free to say whatever they want about Israel, without fear of censorship or retaliation.

This is not the case on the other side of the conflict. In fact, during the 2014 Gaza war, there were several incidents in which Hamas deleted photos and video footage from journalists’ memory cards before they crossed back into Israel. These journalists did not report the entire story for a simple reason: Hamas wouldn’t let them.

On the other hand, Israel has terrible PR. The Israeli government does not defend itself very well against media bias in times of war or when facing criticism. The spokespeople for this or that politician are not the friendliest. Almost every member of the Israeli bureaucracy is more or less rude to journalists. Let’s also not forget the treatment of journalists and diplomats at Ben-Gurion Airport. Jewish or non-Jewish, if you don’t hold an Israeli passport, you may be treated like a potential threat to the state. One shouldn’t underestimate the effect this has on how journalists see Israel.

I once had lunch in Jerusalem with an accomplished member of the foreign press. I asked her about her personal experiences as a journalist. She had been in the region for about a year. She told me that when she arrived, Israelis were not very friendly to her, but Palestinians were. This was a strong factor in her tendency to write articles that were anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian. In fact, during that conversation she spoke at length about Palestinian hospitality and how it was a major factor in her impression of the conflict. Arabs have a well-earned reputation for amazing hospitality.
Reporters and photographers await a press conference held at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, July 26, 2011. Photo: Mark Israel Sellem / Flash90

Reporters and photographers await a press conference held at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, July 26, 2011. Photo: Mark Israel Sellem / Flash90

On the other hand, how can you trust a journalist’s stories when the basis for them is pure emotion and personal sensitivity? Should a journalist treated with classic Arab hospitality write against Israel for that reason? Should they manipulate each story, no matter what the truth is, in such a way that Israel will forever be portrayed in a negative light?

Obviously not, but journalists are human beings after all. If you offend them, you should be ready to face the consequences. The Israeli government is shortsighted on this issue. It’s as if it doesn’t believe that making a concerted effort to defend and thoroughly explain its actions will have any effect. Israel should remember that the reason the PA and Hamas are able to portray their agenda as legitimate in the eyes of the Western media, despite their terrorism and serious human rights violations, is because they have effective PR.
Over time, I came to realize that to be considered a successful journalist by the Western media, a journalist must stick to an acceptable script. In the Middle East, this means portraying Israel and the Jews as the bad guys, and the Palestinians and the PA as the good guys. If you don’t do this, you are professionally ostracized.

I know that journalism has changed with the advent of the internet and the power of social media. But the reality is that foreign correspondents have also changed their ways. I saw journalists depict the easiest stories to tell without digging any deeper into the facts behind the conflict. There were various reasons for this—lack of time, money, and resources; ignorance and pressure from editors. These editors sometimes act as experts on the region from their comfortable offices in New York.

Beyond this, however, I found that some stories carried with them an inherent dislike for the Jewish state and the Jewish people. I’m not speaking about most of the Western media. But a few conversations with journalists do come to mind in which it was obvious that the motivation for their stories was anti-Semitism. What’s scary is that these stories inevitably play a major role in shaping foreign policy toward Israel.

Of course, every news outlet, newspaper, or magazine has an agenda. There is no such thing as an unbiased journalist. We bring our experiences, interactions with people, and our emotions to bear on every story and situation. This is inevitable. Biases will always exist. But we still have a responsibility to uncover and portray the truth to the best of our ability. Admitting to our biases does not mean we should submit to them.
Israeli photographers on the Israel-Gaza border, January 14, 2009. Photo: Yossi Zamir / Flash90

Israeli photographers on the Israel-Gaza border, January 14, 2009. Photo: Yossi Zamir / Flash90

I admit that, at times, I questioned my perception of the situation in Israel. Was I missing something? I felt like I must be doing something wrong, because my views didn’t fit into the framework presented by the Western media. And sometimes I was afraid to voice my own opinions, post them on social media, or write articles about what I saw. I was afraid I would be labeled a right-wing lunatic or an Israeli propagandist. How would I explain myself to people who knew of my progressive work? Only Republicans side with Israel, right? But ultimately I reminded myself of my efforts as a social activist—work that started with questioning the status quo. And the Western media’s view of Israel is a status quo that needs to be questioned.

There is another reason why Western journalists must begin to question their biases and their conduct toward Israel: Their failure do so is pushing peace further away. For example, the Western media feeds the corruption of the Palestinian Authority. If journalists really want to help change things for the better, they should have the courage to criticize the Palestinians and their government. They should report on human rights violations committed by the PA (and Hamas). They should tell the world about incitement again Jews and Israelis in PA-controlled media, as well as mosques and schools. They should report on the television shows that teach Palestinian children to hate Jews. They should share the stories of Palestinians who want to speak out against their leaders, but are afraid to do so for fear of imprisonment or death. Give Palestinians a real voice. Putting all the blame on Israel will never change the fate of the Palestinian people.

In fact, just like the PA, the Western media exploits the Palestinians. They use them in order to get the award-winning story their editors want. What the Palestinians do not realize is that these journalists don’t care about the Palestinians. They interview a few people in Ramallah about their struggles, take some emotional photos, and then head back to the comfort of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. As a result, decades of pro-Palestinian bias has changed nothing.
Perhaps I am not like my fellow journalists, but when it comes to Israel, I am not ashamed of that. Do I always agree with Israeli policy? No. Are there some serious, deep-rooted racial issues in Israel? Yes. Is the Israeli government sometimes plagued by corruption and the abuse of powers by government officials for private gain? Yes. But I can’t think of a democracy that doesn’t have these issues in one form or another. And the beauty of a democracy is having the privilege to criticize the government, the ability to address those issues and bring about change. Because of this, progress is possible in democratic societies. And progress is definitely possible in Israel.

But the way the Western media treats Israel does not make progress possible. As a journalist myself, it pains me to see how bias, unprofessionalism, laziness, ego, and sometimes outright racism influences coverage of Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians. These failures are not only a violation of journalistic ethics, they make peace less likely and embolden Israel’s enemies, and the enemies of democracy around the world.

People ask me a lot if I am pro-Israel. Am I pro-Israel? If supporting democracy and the search for truth it permits means that I am pro-Israel, then, yes, I am.

Banner Photo: Tomer Neuberg / Flash90

Yes, Journalists Choose Sides in a Conflict—and Often for the Worst Reasons / Zenobia Ravji

Photojournalists photograph a protest in Tel Aviv against a controversial agreement reached over the past few months between the government and large energy companies over natural gas production, November 14, 2015. Photo: Tomer Neuberg / Flash90

Foreign journalists report next to the Iron Dome system near the city of Ashdod, November 15, 2012. Photo: Yonatan Sindel / Flash90

Photographers capture Israeli soldiers clashing with young stone-throwing Palestinians at the Qalandiya checkpoint near the West Bank city of Ramallah, October 9, 2009. Photo: Nati Shohat / Flash90

Reporters and photographers await a press conference held at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, July 26, 2011. Photo: Mark Israel Sellem / Flash90

Israeli photographers on the Israel-Gaza border, January 14, 2009. Photo: Yossi Zamir / Flash90




about 22 hours ago

"February 1, 2016
Julie Mell on Elisheva Baumgarten’s Practicing Piety in Medieval Ashkenaz
Elisheva Baumgarten, Practicing Piety in Medieval Ashkenaz: Men, Women and Everyday Religious Observance,, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014, 344pp., $69.95

Elisheva Baumgarten, Practicing Piety in Medieval Ashkenaz: Men, Women and Everyday Religious Observance,, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014, 344pp., $69.95
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Long before second-wave feminism brought egalitarian practices into Judaism, medieval women were taking on rituals reserved for men. Jewish women were shaking the lulav, blowing the shofar, and donning tefillin and tzitzit in Ashkenaz, that is, in northwestern Europe as it is known in Hebrew. Perhaps even more surprising, some of the foremost halachic authorities were not objecting. But medieval women’s active assumption of “time-bound commandments,” commandments from which they were legally exempt, was not a form of proto-feminism. As Elisheva Baumgarten never fails to remind her readers medieval Ashkenaz was a staunchly hierarchical and patriarchal society. Neither the halachic authorities nor the women about whom they wrote ever questioned the categorical divide between men and women, even when they permitted women’s observance of the commandments reserved for men.

In fact, the same pious impulse that led women to break the gender boundary also led women to impose upon themselves what today would be considered gender exclusion. Particularly pious Jewish women, for instance, began absenting themselves from the synagogue in the late eleventh and twelfth centuries, when their menstrual cycle rendered them impure. By the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, this became the norm for all Ashkenazi women. Women’s exclusion from the synagogue, even when initiated by women themselves, contradicts the central aim of contemporary Jewish feminism, whether orthodox or reform to incorporate women as fully as possible in public synagogue prayer. Consequently, advocates of orthodox feminism will not find uncomplicated precedents for expanding women’s inclusion in public prayer in Practicing Piety in Medieval Ashkenaz. But they will find a fine piece of feminist history that recovers women’s experiences and uses gender analysis to transform our understanding of Jewish history and European history more generally.

As in her earlier book Mothers and Children: Jewish Family Life in Medieval Europe, Baumgarten crafts a remarkable piece of women’s (and men’s) history out of sparse and difficult rabbinic texts produced by elite men. She has perfected the method of the Annales School, the pioneers of social and cultural history, and she deftly applies this method to elite Hebrew texts from medieval Ashkenaz. The concept of piety, which Baumgarten uses to center her study, derives from Annalist historians like André Vauchez, who explored “lay piety” as a corrective to historians’ focus on the clerical elite and their texts. Similarly, Baumgarten shifts scholars’ focus from the male elite of the rabbis and their textual productions to the everyday religious practices of non-elite men and women.

Perhaps it is ironic that Jewish Studies scholars should need a nudge in this direction, for rabbinic Judaism has always been a practice-oriented religion in that what matters most is what one does and how one does it. The word “piety” may not resonate with contemporary Anglo-Americans, but its Yiddish equivalent frum does with orthodox Jewish readers. Frum is one of those little Yiddish words that has become part of the Anglo-American Jewish vocabulary. It is a loaded descriptor that characterizes a certain type of observant Jew — something more than shomer Shabbat (one who keeps the Shabbat as defined by the modern orthodox movement) and something different from a baal teshuvah (one who has returned to religious observance). It can describe someone who is exact about halachic observance or one who is overly concerned (even annoyingly concerned) with the correct observance of halachah in areas that are customarily problematic or contested zones. “Practicing piety” is nothing more than “being frum.” This fluid translation into Yi-nglish reminds us how close these medieval movements still are to the living pulse of contemporary Judaism.

Yet, the association with “piety” that will probably come readily to the minds of most readers is not that of orthodox Judaism, but of “pietism,” the intra-church devotional and renewal movements in Protestantism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Germany. Scholarship on lay piety in medieval western Christianity has encouraged an association with later Protestant renewal movements. Some bold historians have even designated the period the “medieval reformation.” One wishes that Baumgarten had excavated this conceptual history behind the category “piety” and analyzed more rigorously her own use. This would have lessened the kaleidoscope-effect, in which piety functions as a catch-all term for everything from radical new forms of religious expression to mainstream norms, from polemical identity marker to mundane, rote ritual. It also perhaps would have led the author to articulate explicitly one of the intriguing latent suggestions of the book — that European Judaism in the high middle ages was undergoing a movement of renewal and devotional enthusiasm parallel to and in conversation with western Christianity.

The book first takes up practices central to the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — prayer, fasting, and charity. After discussing synagogue attendance in relation to bodily impurity, Baumgarten addresses fasting as a form of repentance. Then she analyzes the charitable giving recorded in the Nürnburg Memorbuch across genders. In the second half of the book, she focuses on women’s performance of time-bound commandments reserved for men, as well as the relationship between piety and hair, dress, and appearance. In conclusion, Baumgarten considers the tensions between internal piety (or its lack) and outward signs and symbols of piety.

Each chapter uses comparison as an analytic tool to cut deeply into the material. Jewish women’s practices are compared with men’s, and Jewish practices with Christian. For example, in her discussion of bodily impurity and synagogue attendance, Baumgarten compares and contrasts changing rabbinic concerns with male and female impurity. Medieval precedents for purity, she notes, were rooted in practices connected with sacrifice in the Temple. Any man with a seminal emission or woman menstruating or experiencing post-partum bloody flow were barred from bringing a sacrifice until they had washed with proper ritual immersion, as were those with skin disease or exposure to corpses. After the destruction of the second Temple, these regulations were transmitted and transformed by the rabbis in complicated and at times contradictory ways. While the rabbis constructed prayer in the synagogue as a substitute for sacrifice in the temple, the regulations on purity in the temple were not seamlessly applied to the synagogue. In high medieval Europe women’s impurity caused by menstrual or post-partum blood became heightened, and men’s impurity caused by seminal emission reduced. Whereas pious women began to refrain from entering the synagogue while impure, men, irrespective of their impurity, participated fully in communal prayers. In fact, regulation of male impurity from seminal emission in sexual relations was restricted in medieval Europe to attempts to prevent nocturnal emission outside of sexual relations, without it having any bearing on men’s synagogue attendance.

In analyzing these shifting concepts and practices, Baumgarten rejects two older lines of interpretation: (1) “natural” anxiety related to blood and (2) increasing familiarity with rabbinic laws on niddah (laws on women impure from bloody flow). Rather Baumgarten turns to contemporary social context — medieval European Christian communities and their gendered conceptions of bodily purity and impurity. Through a cross-religious comparison, Baumgarten not only suggests that the new Jewish practices emerged from contemporary European concerns with female pollution and impurity in sacred spaces, but she shows how medieval rabbis framed menstruation as a covenantal sign, defining Jewish identity over against Christianity.

This is just one example of how Baumgarten blazes a trail in the field of medieval Jewish history and law, one both important and long overdue. Texts and halakhah do not shape life and practice, rather it is the other way around. Social custom and contemporary cultural settings led medieval rabbis to discover new things in old texts: European concerns with women’s bodily impurity in sacred spaces led medieval rabbinic authorities to read old rabbinic texts on niddah in new ways. Baumgarten’s aim to uncover the history of social practice (rather than textual transmission) leads her to contextualize Jewish texts in Europe’s social and cultural history. In this endeavor, she joins a wide array of scholars at the cutting-edge of Jewish history. This work has begun to chart a richer and more multi-faceted history of Judaism than older scholarship, which assumed that Judaism was a product of internal transmission of pure texts. Even more significantly, it points to ways in which Jewish history may illuminate “general history,” just as women’s history illuminates “mainstream history.”

Baumgarten’s comparative approach uncovers the shared social structures shaping the lives of Jewish and Christian women in medieval Europe. Cultural and religious responses to these structures among Jews and Christians differed to be sure, for these structural changes were encountered and filtered through distinct religious traditions and even deployed as markers of identity in cross-religious polemic. But underneath the identity politics lies a substratum of shared social structures. Baumgarten leaves off historical analysis once she has pointed out the similarities that cross religious lines. But this type of comparison raises fundamental questions unanswered in this volume: Why did the gender norms shared across Judaism and Christian in western Europe shift in the ways that they did in the high middle ages? Why were women, Christian and Jewish, inspired by piety to push the boundaries of these gender norms? Indeed, why were men and women, Christians and Jews, electrified by new religious experiments in the high medieval period?

The comparison with Jewish practices opens a new horizon on old questions in the study of medieval Christianity. If these transformations happened across religious lines, then we must look beyond internalist explanations to shared social, economic, and cultural factors. Fully comparative work demands that a historian plumb the primary texts of Christianity as deeply as the Jewish texts. One hopes that Baumgarten in her next book, or the next generation of scholars inspired by her, will be brave enough or at least chutzpadik enough to do so.

For the time, though, I am thrilled with “the bird in the hand.” Practicing Piety in Medieval Ashkenaz is a remarkable book. It is a fascinating study of medieval Jewish religious observance that makes a significant contribution to Jewish history and our understanding of gender in medieval Europe. "

about 22 hours ago

"By David Bernstein February 5

In a recent post, I alluded to a Facebook post by a recent Oberlin alumna, clearly a political progressive herself, recounting what she described as various anti-Semitic incidents she experienced at the school at the hands of the SJW left. I noted that I found most remarkable her assertion that multiple students had dismissively referred to the Holocaust as “white on white crime,” as if the “progressive” students there found it impossible to conceive of horrific racist violence outside the parameters of paradigmatic examples of racist violence in the United States. What’s remarkable about the incidents recounted, which range from gross insensitivity to blatant anti-Semitism, is not that such attitudes exist, nor that they are necessarily serious compared with what other minority students may face at college, but that, if the Facebook post in question is true, some of the most purportedly progressive students, those who are the most acutely sensitive to and active against other forms of racism, ignore anti-Semitism, belittle it and, in some cases participate in it.

I found the entire Facebook post of great interest, not just as a troubling sign of emerging hostility to Jews and Jewish concerns among self-proclaimed social justice advocates on left-wing campuses, but as an equally troubling sign of the degradation of intellectual discourse at such campuses more generally, as reason, compassion and just plain old decent manners are replaced with shrill sloganeering based on which group can most successfully proclaim itself to be a victim. Nor is there any indication, despite the purported focus on multiculturalism, that the students who engage in these antics have received anything resembling a sound education in world history and cultures, or much of anything else, as everything is shoehorned into simplistic ideological categories that bear no apparent relation to context and reality. (I also find it interesting that the Jewish students who find themselves the targets of anti-Semitic discourse by SJWs remain committed to the broader “social justice agenda,” as if it’s a mere coincidence that its advocates are also so often tolerant or even indulgent of anti-Semitism, but perhaps that’s a topic for a future post.)

The author of the Oberlin post, Isabel Storch Sherrell, has given me permission to reprint her post in full, and I do so, unedited, below:

I don’t want to make it seem like i hated my time at oberlin. it was a mixed bag and i got a great education and was blessed to learn from amazing professors. But i think being out of that environment has given me a chance to breathe and process everything that i learned/ encountered/ unlearned at oberlin. i learned about the historical context of anti black racism and its current manifestations and through that learning process was able to better frame and identify my own community’s struggle. However i quickly learned that process was to be kept personal and did not blend into the campus atmosphere or the collective fight for justice at oberlin. Because at oberlin, and indeed in the US overall, Jews are viewed as white and privileged (sometimes even above the avg white privilege, since yaknow, were all superrich and stuff) therefore our struggle does not intersect with other forms of racism and bigotry and ignorance that are so tenaciously fought against on campus. As a part of my processing and letting go of the pain I experienced, I will list a few memorable antisemitic moments/incidents here-
Obies feel free to read. But this is actually intended for all my friends and family outside of that circle…
1. The multiple times the Holocaust was referred to as “white on white crime” by my POC peers and hip white Jewish peers, (erasing the fact that ashkenazi jews were NOT seen as white and were being killed in the name of eugenics and white purity and also erasing the fact that blacks, Roma, and north african Jews were also killed in the camps.)
2. That time a Jewish person made a comment on fb saying “the only reason people care about the Holocaust is because it happened to white people” and got tons of likes from white and POC friends alike (Erasing the fact that the western world only decided to care a few decades after the fact, when it wasnt as fresh, and theyd had the time to really work out the details of how they were going to frame it and make it look like the US were the heroes liberating the camps after the US government knew what was being planned by Hitler, knew waht happening while it was happening, and did nothing. Not to mention sending Jewish immigrants trying to escape before the war broke out back to Europe to die in the gas chambers.) This is just one example of Jewish obies stepping all over their ancestors memory in order to climb the white-ally-social-ladder-of-justice-and-excellence i cannot understand it as anything other than self hatred masked by love of “the other”..
3. That time Kosher Halal Co Op was told it couldnt serve “ethnic” food because Jews are white not “ethnic” (erasing identities of Mexican Jews, Asian Jews, etc)
4. That time SFP brought in a Jewish lady to talk about her work with electronicintifada and tell all the Obies that Zionism/Zionists “should burn at the stake” — (After that spectacle who could argue that antizionism has any crossover with antisemitism — “but that lady is jewish and she said xyz so i can say xyz and its not antisemitic or even violent or problematic at all hooooorayyyyy!”
5. That time I was told I should be ashamed for what my people are doing to the Palestinians, by someone I didn’t even know, upon learning I was Jewish. (Imagine a Alawite student at Oberlin being told “you should be ashamed for what your people are doing over there in syria” — yeah, it wouldnt fly. Or a Nigerian Muslim student being shamed for whats going on in their country… never literally would never happen. But Jewish kids? Jewish country? Fair game.)
6. That time my African Studies professor had an antizionist jewish south african man come in to talk to the class about jazz and resistance. During Q&A she praised a Jewish student for their anti Israel comments relating Israel to South African apartheid. The prof then made funny faces and funny eyes when I spoke up and tried to make the point that we should try to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within its OWN historical context and that its unfair to both Israelis and Palestinians to rely only on shaky comparisons. It was clear, in that classroom, who was the good Jew and who was the bad Jew, in that professors’ eyes. I was bad. My concern for anti black racism came into question because I didn’t write anti zionist across my forehead. After that class she literally had me come into her office and asked me ,”why are you here” and i was so shaken with so many emotions i just cried and wasnt able to talk to her and therefore my final paper suffered as a result. This professor also cut ties with the Hillel Rabbi because he, too, did not brand himself an antiZionist.
7. Those times antiblack and antisemitic incidents occurred simultaneously, and then the uproar followed but the antisemitism was essentially ignored by the campus at large. And if I brought that up I was told “dont derail the real issue here.”
8. That time a Jewish girl walked into her dorm room to find glass shattered all over her bed and floor because someone decided to throw a rock through her window, where she had hung an Israeli flag.
9. The fact my Mizrahi Jewish friend has had her identity policed on multiple occasions and was told she is white.
10. The fact that so many Jewish students are bullied into silence, whether its about their own ethnic identity, (PSA: you can identify as ethnically Jewish while still acknowledging your white privilege) their relationship to Israel, or their concern about antisemitism in general/ on campus.
11. The intense and unrelenting vilification of Israel out of proportion to any other nation on the planet where terrible shit happens // People literally refusing to talk to me because I identify as a Zionist.
12. When I overheard someone say “Islamophobia is like the anti-Semitism of our time” as if anti semitism is over/ started and ended with the Holocaust/ has been replaced by anti-muslim racism
13. When a self-identifying “radical” friend posted a picture of Neturei Karta holding anti Israel signs at a protest – “Look! There are Jews who arent monsters!” They have those funny outfits and everything! I’m not tokenizing an extreme minority faction of Orthodox Jews whose views i literally no nothing of in order to prove how not anti semitic my antizionism is!”
14. How inevitably during discussions about the establishment of Israel, people would say “the Jews decided to make Palestinians suffer for the crimes the Germans committed against them” while failing to understand that Zionism is way older than the Holocaust as is the need and the yearning for a Jewish homeland. How Israel is called “colonial and Imperialist, Britain gave it to the Jews” even though we had to FIGHT the imperial army to gain independence. (Revoking agency of Jews that fought for Israel’s independence// Rewriting history so that you would raise your eyebrows in disbelief when I told you my relatives were forced to stay in a DP camp in Cyprus for years after the war ended and that British navy vessels opened fire at ships full of Jewish refugees from Europe and North Africa attempting to make it to Palestine. We did not waltz right in. And we did not come there with an expansionist agenda.
15. Generally antisemitic ideas floating around such as Jews are milking the Holocaust for their own gain// everything is as bad as the Holocaust except for the actual Holocaust which wasnt as bad as people say it was// Jews only care about themselves (another AAST professor told me, “your people really take care of each other” at first i thought it was a compliment but when i told my mother about it she explained that it was not)
16. That time someone posted flyers depicting the Israeli flag with a swastika replacing the star of David and a derogatory slur for jews as a caption
17. Hip white activists boosting their radical resume by denouncing Israel’s right to exist and a handful of Ashkenazis on that bandwagon saying shit like “I hate my right to Israeli citizenship. Israel isn’t my country. It shouldnt even be a country” (Kay well thanks to your white privilege and your lofty rejection of nationalism you are erasing what Zionism means for so many Jews who do NOT share your privilege, such as Yemen’s remaining Jewish population who have recently been told by Houthi rebels that they will lose all their protection under law unless they flee or convert to Islam)
18. Having my own ethnic identity policed. Being told I was simply European and Judaism is a religion not an ethnicity/ or that I am a descendent of Khazarian converts to Judaism and therefore have no right to claim any sort of indigenousness in the Levant. (There is DNA evidence that the VAST MAJORITY of Jews have Middle Eastern genetic markers (yep even us whities) they can even tell what time period we originated there and started mixing with other populations and it lines up with our own historical narrative yet somehow anti-Jewish polemics still get the mic)
Wow, 18. Chai. Life. WOOSH. That felt great to put it all out there. Also please know that I am not tryin to generalize any specific community at oberlin for antisemitism. It is a complex form of institutional “othering” that is upheld by everyone who is not Jewish.. it manifests on racial grounds, cultural grounds, religious grounds, etc. And it kills, it doesnt just hurt.
I am blessed to believe that within myself I carry the capacity to care deeply about the freedom and wellbeing of all peoples. I believe I have the brainpower and the heartspace to continue educating myself and speaking out against ALL FORMS OF RACISM AND HATE INCLUDING ANTISEMITISM

about 23 hours ago

"Boston's Old North Church Restoration Revealing Secrets
Friday, February 5, 2016, by Tom Acitelli

[Photo by Tim Sackton via Flickr]
Boston's uber-historic Old North Church—known best as the then-soaring signal point for Paul Revere and other revolutionaries on their late-night warning ride—is undergoing an $8,000,000 renovation and restoration. It's hoped that the work on the Salem Street site, perhaps the most-visited of all of Boston's tourist attractions, will be completed by the Episcopalian church's tricentennial in 2023, and, two years after that, the 250th anniversary of Revere's midnight gallop. Along the way, the meticulous restoration is revealing quite a bit about the early eighteenth-century building.

For one thing, the process could reveal up to 20 figures painted on the upper arches of the church's nave around the time of its construction in the 1720s. Moreover, per Brian MacQuarrie at the Globe, the painstaking work of conservators has shown "that the walls once were bathed in a reddish wash. That hue would have served at least two purposes: to add color to the interior, and also to create an illusion of hardwood."

In general, that is the restoration's purpose: to get behind and beyond the build-up of two-plus centuries to what's original—or close to it—about what one conservator working on the project describes as "the first important Georgian-style church of its type in English North America." Stay tuned. All shall be revealed.
· Old North Church Preps for $8 Million Makeover [Globe]
· Our History Lessons archive [Curbed Boston]"

Feb 09, 16

We think of simple transition from played music to recorded music via gramophone. But forgotten in the generalization about technology and commodification is another phase:

The Commodification of Music at the Dawn of the Era of "Mechanical Music"
Timothy D. Taylor
Vol. 51, No. 2 (Spring/Summer, 2007), pp. 281-305
Published by: University of Illinois Press on behalf of Society for Ethnomusicology
Stable URL:
Page Count: 25 "

Feb 09, 16

important topic but historically and scientifically problematic to extent e.g. speaks only of forced conversions and makes very broad assumptions about meaning of genl. genetic info

"There is great excitement in Israel with the news that Jennifer Lopez might come to Israel as the Latina diva has reportedly been penciled in to play a concert this summer in Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park. If J. Lo does play Tel Aviv, it would represent the first time she will perform in the Jewish State, but what if it is not so much as a visit as a ‘homecoming’.

While the idea that Jennifer Lopez might be Jewish, or to put it more accurately, have Jewish ancestry, may be news to many, including the singer herself, this possibility is not as unlikely as it seems.

Jennifer Lopez was born in New York, to Puerto Rican parents named Guadalupe Rodriguez and David Lopez. The first thing that strikes anyone familiar with Sephardic history is that both Rodriguez and Lopez are two of the most well known names for the descendants of forcibly-converted Spanish and Portuguese Jews.

Beginning in the 14th Century, hundreds of thousands of Jews on the Iberian Peninsular and elsewhere were forced to the baptismal font or had priests throw ‘Holy Water’ on unsuspecting recipients, creating what the church and state called New Christians, while many remained Crypto-Jews, retaining their faith and traditions in secret. Anyone caught observing even the minimal form of Jewish tradition could be imprisoned, tortured and burnt at the stake by the ruthless Inquisition.

Understandably, many of these crypto-Jews escaped to the New World, the Americas, to try and get as far away as possible from the center of the reign of terror in Spain and Portugal.

Family names like Lopez and Rodriguez are patronymic, meaning that they are derived from a man’s given name, usually a father, paternal ancestor or patron. Many of the forcibly-converted Jews were given ‘Old Christian’ family sponsors and their new family names would often represent the name of the patriarch of the family, i.e. Rodriguez means the son of Rodrigo and Lopez the son of Lopo.

Sometimes whole families which held the same Jewish name took the new Spanish family name. Some have suggested that the Rodriguez (or Rodrigues in Portuguese) family is said to have emigrated as the Gradis family from the Land of Israel at the time of Bar Kochba’s insurrection (125 C.E.) and settled first in Portugal and later in Spain.

What we do know is that many bearing the name Rodriguez and Lopez were convicted as secret ‘Judaizers’, those who held onto Jewish practices in secret, by the Inquisition, and both names appear dozens of times in the Book of Guilties written by The Inquisition in Spain alone. Many Jews with both names were martyred by the Spanish Inquisition during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Famous descendants of forcibly converted Jews bearing these names include Roderigo Lopez, who had been accused by the Portuguese Inquisition of secretly practicing Judaism, and compelled to leave the country when he fled to London. Lopez, the subject of much racial jealousy, then rose to become physician-in-chief to Queen Elizabeth I of England from 1581 until his death by execution, having been found guilty of plotting to poison the Queen, even though she reportedly remained unconvinced of his guilt.

Aaron Lopez, born Duarte Lopez, belonged to a family who had openly professed Catholicism while they continued to practice Judaism in secret. He was a Portuguese Jewish merchant and philanthropist who became the wealthiest person in Newport, Rhode Island, in British America. In 1761, Lopez sued the Colony of Rhode Island for citizenship but was unsuccessful because he was a professing Jew. He then moved to Massachusetts where he successfully applied for citizenship there. Some historians believe Lopez was the first Jew to become a naturalized citizen of Massachusetts.

These are just two of many famous Jews and descendants of forcibly converted Jews to bear either the name Lopez or Rodriguez, both of which feature in this author’s extended family tree extending back many centuries.

However, alongside the name, there are other clues of a possible Jewish ancestry for Jennifer Lopez.

A Jewish presence in Puerto Rico can be traced back to the 15th century and the Second Voyage of Christopher Columbus, when many Jews settled on the island hoping to flee from the scrutiny of the Spanish Inquisition. Each of Columbus’ voyages across the Atlantic was prominently staffed by crypt-Jews and many others joined further expeditionary crews sailing for the New World. They hoped that there would be safety in distance, but unfortunately once Spain established colonies in the New World, the Inquisition surely followed. The crypto-Jews were forced to settle in the island’s remote, mountainous interior and flee from the cities and power centers.

According to a National Geographic genograhic DNA project conducted in 2014 the average Puerto Rican individual has 65% West Eurasian (Mediterranean, Northern European and/or Middle Eastern) DNA. This demonstrates the strong possibility of Jewish ancestry among many Peurto Ricans.

Obviously, all of this evidence for the possible Jewish ancestry of J. Lo is circumstantial.

Nevertheless, it would be impossible to know of the exact origins of Ms. Lopez unless a personal DNA analysis or genealogical research was undertaken.

However, I have used the story of Jennifer Lopez to demonstrate a far more important point than mere speculation about a celebrity ‘member of the tribe’.

Statistically, there are tens of millions of Hispanics, Latinos and others spread out across North and Latin America and Europe who are indeed descended from forcibly-converted Jews, known as Anousim, Conversos, or derogatorily Marranos (meaning ‘swine’).

The names Lopez, Rodriguez, Perez, Martinez, Pereira, Costa, Cardoza, and thousands of other ‘typical’ Hispanic names could be indicative of Jewish origins, and websites like Name Your Roots are providing tantalizing clues to this ancestry and how to conduct further research.

Many others are beginning to understand their origins as a result of advances in the fields of genealogy and DNA, or simply through chance encounters or simple Google searches that their unusual family customs or distinct Spanish dialects are Jewish in origin.

Large numbers of these people are looking to rejoin the Jewish social fabric or assist Jewish causes in a variety of ways.

Millions of our long-lost brothers and sisters are looking to reconnect with the Jewish People and at Reconectar we are helping to facilitate this reconnection according to their individual wishes and goals. According to Jewish law those who wish to return to the Jewish fold should be permitted and even encouraged to do so, some like Rabbi Aharon Soloveichik went even further and said they should be treated as full Jews.

Regardless, the beginning of the Twenty-First Century presents unprecedented opportunities to reconnect our people in a way simply impossible and even unthinkable in previous generations.

At Reconectar, we are already helping thousands of individuals facilitate the reconnection they seek, even if it is just to learn more about their ancestry. If Jennifer Lopez has an interest in finding out more about any possible Jewish ancestry, we can help her too."

Feb 09, 16

"Learn the Story Behind the Manhattan Cocktail
Our spirits expert Noah Rothbaum takes us behind the scenes of the classic Manhattan cocktail. Learn the drink’s origins and, of course, how to make a perfect version yourself.

The Manhattan: elegance in a glass. Much like its namesake borough, the Manhattan conjures up images of luxurious surroundings, refined company, and late, late nights. But there’s more to the story than that: in this video, spirits expert Noah Rothbaum takes us through the history of the classic Manhattan cocktail. Who poured the first Manhattan, and how did the recipe develop? Have we improved on the drink since then, or should we stick to the classic recipe? We’ll show you how to make your own flawless version at home. Relax—even if you’re in Manhattan, this is a drink to savor."

Feb 09, 16

"A platformer / exploration fantasy over surrealist master painter Giorgio de Chirico. Great narratives, exotic architectures and mistery.

Now with spoken narratives, beautiful baroque music and surreal landscapes.
Play as Olipen, meet Anonymantus and listen to Trovatore...


Gigoia Studios is working hard to deliver you a great experience !. Stay tuned for new screenshots, videos and history by Rodrick Loneman (Goldak).


You can follow the development on twitter:

Feb 09, 16

"by David Greenberg

David Greenberg, a professor of history and journalism and media studies at Rutgers, is a contributing editor to Politico Magazine. His most recent book is Republic of Spin: An Inside History of the American Presidency, and he tweets at @republicofspin.

In 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke at the dedication of the Jefferson Memorial at the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. Jefferson was one of Roosevelt’s heroes, and FDR took the occasion to praise his predecessor in extravagant terms. He also commented on the vicissitudes of historical reputation. “Our generation of Americans can understand much in Jefferson’s life which intervening generations could not see as well as we,” he declared. Speaking as American GIs were fighting fascism to defend the basic ideas expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, FDR continued: “He faced the fact that men who will not fight for liberty can lose it. We, too, have faced that fact. He lived in a world in which freedom of conscience and freedom of mind were battles still to be fought through—not principles already accepted of all men. We, too, have lived in such a world.”

A lot has changed since 1943. Today, many Americans are more likely to shrug at Jefferson’s liberalism than revere it. And FDR’s worshipful invocation of it will strike some people as blinkered. What about the interned Japanese-Americans, or the Jews turned away on the passenger ship St. Louis? We, too, like to think that our generation can see Jefferson in ways that intervening generations couldn’t—but for us, it’s his slaveholding and long relationship with his slave mistress, Sally Hemings, whose importance we are able to recognize.

Changing perspectives on Jefferson—and on scores of other historical figures and events—have in the past year prompted what we might call the Nomenclature Wars: a rash of efforts to topple statues, erase historical symbols, wipe names from buildings and institutions, and otherwise cleanse our heritage sites of any traces of our troubled past. In a few short months we’ve ricocheted from an overdue reckoning with the symbols of the Confederate South, through weird diversions like expunging William McKinley’s name from the Alaskan peak it had graced for a century, to a wanton and sometimes uninformed impulse to consign great but flawed men like Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson to history’s hall of shame. We’re not yet with the French Jacobins, who remade their entire calendar in the hopes of reshaping human nature, but it can feel as if we’re moving in that direction.

Should Jackson or Alexander Hamilton be removed from the currency to make room for Harriet Tubman? Should Democratic dinners still be named for the party’s founding figures, Jefferson and Jackson? Should we rename the streets of New Orleans or the buildings of the Ivy League? The common thread in this year’s Nomenclature Wars has been a desire to highlight America’s shameful history of racial exclusion. That goal is among the worthiest that we can have in our public discourse, since we won’t be able to realize racial equality without an understanding of its deep roots in our culture, society and politics. But there’s a danger, too, that these campaigns will enshrine race as the sole criterion for judging our forbears—and will peremptorily end the conversation there. That may make sense for figures who matter mainly for upholding slavery or segregation, like Jefferson Davis or George Wallace. But with people whose achievement encompasses infinitely more, it’s short-sighted. Participants in these debates would do well to realize not only that a thorough study of history thwarts easy judgments about heroism or villainy, but also that the political passions of the current day typically prove to be a fickle guide to rendering lasting verdicts about the past.

When we undertake changes in our shared civic culture—whose pictures are on our currency, which flags top our legislatures, whose visages look down on us from the halls of our public buildings—we should do so with an eye toward the ages. We want our decisions to stand the test of time. We want to make sure that they won’t be subject to partisan whims, to the comings and goings of a Democratic or Republican Congress, or to social media-driven enthusiasms.

That means realizing, as FDR did, how much our own views of these figures are shaped by the exigencies and even the passing fads of our own time. We’re quite good at detecting the biases and limitations of our predecessors, but we remain oblivious to our own. (In another 70 years, it probably won’t be Jefferson’s views on race that loom largest in his legacy, but something else—something we can’t see or predict.) Renaming should be done not in a burst of iconoclastic zeal but in a spirit of humility and awe. Otherwise these names will cease to carry the dignity and weight of judgment etched in marble. Instead they’ll resemble the ephemeral, tossed-off opinions of a Snapchat message, dissolving into the ether after the fervor of the moment fades. ...


Feb 09, 16

"Historians debate the value and place for Confederate monuments, memorials and other symbols.
January 8, 2016
Colleen Flaherty

ATLANTA -- Those driving or even flying here this week for the American Historical Association’s annual meeting might have glimpsed Stone Mountain out their car or airplane window. The massive, Mount Rushmore-style tribute to Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson is hard to miss and -- for many -- hard to stomach. But what can and should be done about the thousands upon thousands of Confederate memorials and other symbols throughout the American South, many of which are on college and university campuses?

The topic was the subject of a plenary session for the first time open to the public here Thursday at the AHA’s gathering.

James Grossman, executive director of the AHA, and a panel of noted experts on the American South all said the evening’s discussion was precipitated by the June massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in Charleston, S.C., which prompted debates about state-sanctioned Confederate iconography due to the shooter’s interest in such symbols, as well as the recent student protest movement.

But speakers also said that the history of the Confederate flag and other symbols is long and fraught, and that another national conversation over their value and rightful place was already overdue.

For David Blight, the Class of 1954 Professor of American History at Yale University, the Confederate symbol question is, in part, about where one’s “line” is. For some, he said, the line between what is historically valuable and not is drawn at that which does not promote maximum unity. For others, the line leads to maximum knowledge, and the “troubled wisdom” that comes with it.

Others still draw it at healing justice, if such a thing can be achieved, he said, and yet others at maximum pleasure or pain. Blight said he was pushed by a reporter earlier this year in the aftermath of the Charleston shooting -- which he called the past “exploding” into the present -- to draw his own line. Without realizing it, Blight named the Davis and Lee figures in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol as Confederate monuments he found unacceptable.

“I found I had a line,” Blight said, but admitted he couldn’t do anything to remove the statues, which are selected by individual states.

W. Fitzhugh Brundage, the William B. Umstead Distinguished Professor and chair of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said he used to shrug off the Confederate symbol problem in favor of what he saw as more pressing issues. He's come around, he said, but the problem is of a massive scale, and seeking to “rebalance” the Southern memorial landscape would likely be prohibitively expensive. According to the digital archive he’s helped create of all the monuments in his state, just 30 of several hundred Civil War-related ones honor Union or black soldiers.

So what to do about all the other monuments in North Carolina and other states -- such as Georgia’s giant Stone Mountain? Brundage suggested that the mountain -- with its various historical ties to white supremacists, including those in the Ku Klux Klan -- might best serve as a museum tracing the history of American white supremacy. But because there would be little public interest in such a project, he said, it’s probably best to start by addressing the “lowest-hanging” fruit, or smaller monuments and memorials -- many of which are housed at colleges and universities.

While students on campuses across the country have called for the removal of monuments to everyone from Davis to Thomas Jefferson, who was not involved the Civil War but who owned slaves, Brundage said colleges and universities should target symbols for removal based on their significance.

For example, he said, some students have argued that all tributes to Woodrow Wilson, a known racist, should be expunged. While Wilson’s imprint on certain campuses might be relatively insignificant, and therefore perhaps best left alone, he said, the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Service and International Affairs at Princeton University probably should be renamed because Wilson’s views contradict in many ways what the school is trying to promote.

Daina Ramey Berry, an associate professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin, was a member of her university's task force on what to do about several Confederate monuments in a prominent area on campus.

The task force didn’t tell President Gregory L. Fenves what to do, but rather described the historical context of the monuments, gauged how members of the campus community felt and outlined possible ways of dealing with them. Students were nearly perfectly split on the issue, and in the end Fenves decided to move the most controversial monument -- that of Davis, president of the Confederacy -- to a museum on campus that could provide appropriate historical context. Several other monuments stayed in place because they were found to have significant ties to Texas.

Berry said she’d refrained from talking publicly about her work on the task force after someone commented in a local newspaper article that black faculty members should be chained to the Davis statue. But because she felt that she was among peers on Thursday, Berry said she wanted to speak out. She asked what the historian’s role was in the national ongoing debate, and encouraged her colleagues to get involved.

“I’ve been saying to my students for the last year, year and a half, that we are in a particular historical moment,” Berry said. “So what is the historian’s role in this moment, I ask again? The historian’s role is to provide the context in which people can understand the very complex issues of the past and the present.”

In addition to students, Berry said, historians also serve the public. “What will we say?” she asked. “Some of you in this room have already weighed in and I know these are difficult conversations. We will certainly not always agree with one another’s interpretation, but that is history and it is what we do.”

John Coski, an historian with the American Civil War Museum and author of The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem, said historians can help elevate the “tone and substance” of current and future conversations about such issues. Most importantly, he said, historians can help distinguish between sovereignty and free speech contexts -- that is, the difference between a state flag that looks like the Confederate flag, for example, and someone wearing the Confederate flag on a T-shirt.

Second, he said, historians can help explain the difference between the facts of history and the “glorifying” of it. For example, he said, it stands to reason that those who strongly value the Confederate flag as a means of memorializing the soldiers who fought and died under it ought to want to limit their expressions to a memorialized context. That’s instead of, say, wearing a prom dress featuring the flag’s pattern, he said.

Last, Coski said, historians should demand a more sophisticated conversation about what it means to "erase" history, and whether that's really possible. "That's what we have heard about and will be hearing a lot about in the next few years, unless these discussions morph into something unexpected," he said. "'It's erasing history!' Is it really? Well, you can't really erase history. You can erase the presentation of it, you can erase the memory of it, you can erase a particular spin of it, but is it really erasing history? We should be at forefront of trying to clarify what does and does not constitute erasing history."

Jane Turner Censer, a professor of history at George Mason University, made a similar argument, saying that the earliest attempts at memorializing Confederate soldiers -- undertaken largely by white women’s organizations -- sought to locate and identify their remains. Over time, the monuments became more and more celebratory, and "glorifying," boldly moving from the cemetery to public squares and other prominent areas: Davis on a horse, a Confederate soldier standing guard.

Some of the supporters argued that these efforts weren’t political, when they of course were, Censer said. "White Southerners showed their power by dominating the space with martial monuments."

But rather than eliminating such symbols altogether, she suggested, what if they were moved back to cemeteries and other locations more clearly tied to the act of memorializing, or the "bringing about of remembrance?" Censer said that while she's much more comfortable dealing in 19th-century history than 21st-century policy, "I suggest the way that these Confederate statues came to exist can offer something to our decisions …. Purpose matters. Even though cemeteries are not generally closed to the public they do not appear public" in the same way parks or colleges or universities do.

Grossman said it would have been irresponsible for historians to meet in Atlanta without talking about the “presence of the past within our lives.” And while the city is rife with reminders of a cause that “deserved to be lost,” he said, it’s a history that can’t be erased -- even through the removal of monument and symbols -- and which instead must be confronted.

During a question and answer period, U.S. Army Col. Ty Seidule, chair of the department of history at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, said Confederate symbols and monuments were “not just a Southern problem.” While West Point rejected as traitors all Confederate veterans in the aftermath of the Civil War, he said, the university in the 20th century began to honor some Confederate officers. Now it's rethinking some of those ties, he said, based on the idea that Lee, military leader of the Confederacy, alone “killed more U.S. Army soldiers than Hitler.”

Michael Allen, a community partnership specialist with the National Park Service based in Charleston, said he was heartened to hear some of the evening's suggestions, and that he’d report them back to leaders of the Emanuel AME Church. They want to plan a memorial or museum for their slain members, he said, and will have to face many of the issues discussed.

Allen also said he’d had some success trying to “rebalance” the memorial landscape in and around Charleston. A historical marker at the site of secession caused controversy and was knocked down, but survives. And a marker dedicated to Robert Smalls, the first African-American to command a U.S. warship, is still standing."

Feb 09, 16

"Baltimore City commission recommends removal of two Confederate monuments
Jackson-Lee monument

Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee (right) and Stonewall Jackson are depicted on horseback in a monument near the Baltimore Museum of Art. (Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun)
Luke BroadwaterLuke BroadwaterContact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
A task force is recommending two Confederate monuments in Baltimore City be removed.

Two monuments that celebrate Confederate-era leaders should be removed from Baltimore's public parks, a mayoral task force recommended Thursday.

The seven-member commission, appointed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to consider what to do with Baltimore's four Confederate-era monuments, voted narrowly to remove two of them. The mayor must now make a final decision.

University of Maryland law professor Larry S. Gibson, a commission member, proposed the plan to remove the Roger B. Taney Monument on Mount Vernon Place and the Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson Monument in the Wyman Park Dell.

Gibson said Taney's statute should be dismantled because his authorship of the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision was "pure racism." The decision held that African-Americans could not be American citizens.

"In my view, he deserves a place in infamy," Gibson said of the fifth chief justice of the United States.

Gibson also argued that Baltimore has a disproportionate number of monuments to the Confederacy on its public property. He said that more than twice as many Marylanders fought for the Union as the Confederacy during the Civil War, but the city has only one public monument to the Union.
Baltimore City landmarks
Baltimore City has 163 exterior landmark designations. We've included several of them here, with addresses so you can conduct your own tour of Baltimore's designated landmarks. Information provided by and National Register of Historic Places.

See the complete list here.

"Three monuments to the Confederacy is out of proportion," Gibson said. "Probably a majority of Baltimoreans think there should be none to the Confederacy."

The commissioners recommended that the statute of Lee and Jackson be offered to the U.S. Park Service to place in Chancellorsville, Va. The two Confederate generals last met in person shortly before the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863.

The commission voted to keep the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Mount Royal Avenue and the Confederate Women's Monument on West University Parkway, but to add context. Members said they needed to meet again to decide exactly what context they wanted to add.
Roger Brooke Taney

A statue of Roger Brooke Taney, the fifth Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, is seated facing the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon. (Baltimore Sun)

Commission member Elford Jackson, a civil engineer and member of Baltimore City Public Arts Commission, argued that he wanted to see more art in Baltimore, not less.

"They are pieces of art," he said of the statutes. "Do they have a negative connotation? They sure do."

The task force voted 4-3 to remove the two monuments and 6-1 to keep the other two.

Rawlings-Blake, a Democrat, created the task force in June after nine African-Americans were shot to death in a South Carolina church allegedly by a white man whose photograph with the Confederate battle flag was widely circulated online.

The shooting led to the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse and calls for other changes, including the possible renaming of city-owned Robert E. Lee Park in Baltimore County. That proposal is before the City Council.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has moved to stop the state from issuing license plates bearing images of the Confederate battle flag. The New Orleans City Council voted last month to remove four Confederate monuments from public places.

Although Taney, a Marylander, was not a Confederate fighter, his authorship of the Dred Scott decision brought him into the commission's purview. Gibson argued that the Baltimore statue is merely a copy of a monument that sits in Annapolis.

"Roger B. Taney is a monument that symbolizes racism," said commission member Donna Cypress, director of library services at Lincoln College of Technology and member of Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture.

"The Taney monument is the most offensive," said commission member Mary Demory, who serves on the Baltimore City Public Arts Commission.

Six of the seven commissioners are African-Americans. The commissioners plan to submit their recommendations to the mayor in a formal report.

"The mayor looks forward to seeing their formal report and explanation for their recommendations," said mayoral spokesman Howard Libit. "Then we'll make a decision."

Johns W. Hopkins, the director of Baltimore Heritage, a nonprofit dedicated to preservation, said the organization supports the process Rawlings-Blake has created.

"Our position is very much in support of the thoughtful and deliberate way to decide what to do with these monuments," Hopkins said. "We think that's important public discussion to have."

Alexander E. Hooke, a philosophy professor at Stevenson University, has described the statute of Lee and Jackson as a "stunning sculpture," and compared it to artwork "one might find in Paris or Vienna." He has argued that the monuments should remain as a "teachable moment" for passers-by.

He called the vote Thursday "very sad."

"What's next?" he asked. "Go to Mount Rushmore and put a blanket over Washington and Jefferson?"

Both early presidents owned slaves.

The Civil War, in which more than 700,000 people died, was fought largely over slavery. As war raged on, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring "that all persons held as slaves" within the Confederacy "are, and henceforward shall be free.""

Feb 09, 16

"UNESCO chief ‘deplores’ bid to name Western Wall part of Al-Aqsa
Irina Bokova postpones vote by executive board, urges it to avoid ‘inciting further tensions’ on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount
By Times of Israel staff October 20, 2015, 6:41 pm 22


The chief of the UN's education and culture agency, Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, gestures during an interview with The Associated Press at the Global Forum for Youth, Peace and Security, in Madaba, Jordan, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. (AP/Raad Adayleh)
The chief of the UN's education and culture agency, Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, gestures during an interview with The Associated Press at the Global Forum for Youth, Peace and Security, in Madaba, Jordan, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. (AP/Raad Adayleh)

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The head of the United Nations cultural agency said Tuesday that she “deplores” a proposal to recognize the Western Wall as part of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on the Temple Mount above it.

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The move, Irina Bokova warned on UNESCO’s website, “could be seen to alter the status of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls and incite further tensions.”

The executive board had been scheduled to vote Tuesday on a resolution submitted by Arab states that would officially recognize the Western Wall as part of the Muslim holy site, but Bokova postponed the vote until Wednesday. United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) sources say a number of countries are attempting to postpone the vote beyond Wednesday.

Israel has been working to block the resolution, calling it “an attempt to distort history and blur the connection between the Jewish people and its holiest place and create a false reality.”

In a statement, Bokova called on the UNESCO board “to take decisions that do not further inflame tensions on the ground and that encourage respect for the sanctity of the Holy Sites.”

“We all have responsibility to UNESCO’s mandate, to take decisions that promote dialogue, tolerance and peace,” Bokova said.

The director-general urged both sides to ensure that the cultural and religious heritage at the holy site is preserved and accessible to everyone, and encouraged a return to dialogue “in the spirit of mutual understanding.”

According to a report in the Hebrew-language paper Maariv, Bokova appealed to the UN agency’s organizing committee to postpone the vote after meeting with Israeli and Palestinian UNESCO envoys.

The Israeli envoy to UNESCO, Carmel Shama Hacohen, told Bokova that the text of the resolution was far worse compared to previous UNESCO resolution proposals, and amounted to an attempt to seize ownership of the Western Wall.

“Among European nations, all countries but one said that if the Palestinians don’t soften the text of the resolution they will oppose it. We are continuing our diplomatic efforts to the last minute,” Hacohen told the paper Tuesday.

According to the report, the Palestinian envoy refused during a meeting with Bokova to soften the wording of the text.
Jewish worshipers cover themselves with prayer shawls as they pray in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City during the priestly blessing which commemorates the Israelites' hasty departure from Egypt. April 6, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Jewish worshipers cover themselves with prayer shawls as they pray in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City during the priestly blessing on Passover, a holiday which commemorates the Israelites’ hasty departure from Egypt. April 6, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Western Wall is at the base of Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site. The hilltop compound is revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, the site of the two biblical Jewish temples. Today, it’s home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest shrine and a key national symbol for the Palestinians.

The initial outbreak of the current round of violence between the two sides was fueled by rumors that Israel was plotting to take over the Temple Mount. Israel has adamantly denied the allegations, saying it has no plans to change the status quo at the site, where Jews are allowed to visit but not pray.

The UNESCO proposal also calls for the international community to condemn Israel for urging “its citizens to bear arms in light of [the] recent terror wave,” as well as for recent actions by Israel and the Israel Defense Forces in Jerusalem. The document refers to Jerusalem as “the occupied capital of Palestine.”

In addition, the Palestinians seek condemnation of ongoing Israeli archaeological excavations near the Temple Mount and in Jerusalem’s Old City, as well as of the “aggression and illegal measures taken against the freedom of worship and access of Muslims to Al-Aqsa Mosque and Israel’s attempts to break the status quo since 1967.”

On Monday, US Democratic Representatives Nita M. Lowey and Ted Deutch sent a letter Monday urging US ambassador to UNESCO, Crystal Nix-Hines, to block the draft resolution.

AP contributed to this report. "

Feb 09, 16

"Drieu la Rochelle, Louis-Ferdinand Céline: voyage au bout de leurs nuits

On connaît le mot de Howard Zinn: "Tant que les lapins n'auront pas d'historiens, l'Histoire sera racontée par les chasseurs." Pour le dire de façon plus conventionnelle, l'Histoire est produite par les vainqueurs. Mais que se passe-t-il dans la tête des perdants? C'est précisément ce qu'a cherché à comprendre la biographe Aude Terray en retraçant par le détail les derniers jours tragiques de Pierre Drieu la Rochelle. Ou comment un vif feu follet s'éteint, tandis que les chants de la Libération résonnent sous ses fenêtres...

D'août 1944 à mars 1945, l'écrivain fasciste erre de planque en planque, dans la lointaine banlieue parisienne, abrité par ses derniers soutiens. Là, atrocement seul, tournant en rond en robe de chambre dans des maisons glacées, il a tout loisir de ruminer son échec.

Une vie fracassée par le démon de la politique

Tout avait bien commencé, pourtant: soldat nietzschéen durant la Grande Guerre, proche des surréalistes dans les années 1920 (il inspirera le fameux personnage d'Aurélien à son ami Aragon), auteur de livres remarqués - Le Feu follet, La Comédie de Charleroi, Gilles -, grand séducteur (il multiplie les liaisons, de la femme de lettres argentine Victoria Ocampo à Christiane Renault, l'épouse du constructeur automobile)... Et pourtant, qui oserait écrire que Drieu fut jamais heureux?

Aude Terray raconte bien comment le démon de la politique a fracassé son existence. Cet esprit faible va basculer vers le fascisme et le PPF de Doriot au milieu des années 1930. Et lui dont la première épouse, Colette Jéramec, était juive, lui dont le meilleur ami est Malraux sombre dans l'antisémitisme et le racisme.

"Ce métèque fait derrière une meule par un Gitan à quelque Auvergnate", écrit-il ainsi gracieusement de Pierre Laval dans son Journal 1939-1945 (Gallimard). Lorsque les Allemands entrent dans Paris, en 1940, il se voit confier les rênes de La Nouvelle Revue française, la fameuse NRF. Il règne enfin sur le petit monde des lettres parisiennes. Mais pour quel résultat?

"Oui, j'ai été d'intelligence avec l'ennemi. J'ai apporté l'intelligence française à l'ennemi. Ce n'est pas ma faute si cet ennemi n'a pas été intelligent", confessera-t-il. Alors, ce "fourvoyé de l'Histoire" ne voit qu'une issue: le suicide, dont on a pu dire non sans méchanceté qu'il était un "professionnel". Après une première tentative, le 11 août 1944, le cocktail gaz-Gardénal lui sera fatal le 15 mars 1945.

De ces derniers jours d'un condamné, Aude Terray tire un récit fluide, entrecoupé de flash-back et croisant les sources (notamment certaines entrées du Journal ou le Récit secret sur son suicide raté laissé par Drieu lui-même). Un moyen agréable de (re)découvrir l'auteur de Gilles.

Le style de Céline laissé de côté

Hasard du calendrier éditorial, paraît aussi ces jours-ci Vers la nuit, récit des dernières heures d'un autre maudit de la littérature française et de la Libération, Louis-Ferdinand Céline. Pour raconter cette nuit du 30 juin au 1er juillet 1961, Isabelle Bunisset, signataire d'une thèse sur l'auteur de Mort à crédit, reprend à son compte des passages des romans (notamment de Rigodon), des correspondances et des interviews tonitruantes accordées par l'écrivain, pour en faire un patchwork, dont le célinien devine en permanence les coutures un peu voyantes.

Entreprise assez vaine, puisqu'elle revient à reformuler ce que Céline a déjà écrit de sa plume géniale tout au long d'une oeuvre obsessionnellement autobiographique. Ce qui s'est perdu au passage, c'est le style. C'est-à-dire à peu près tout, comme l'auteur de Voyage au bout de la nuit le ressassait devant tous ses visiteurs de Meudon.

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